Yeah, I packed my angry eyes, just in case. And it was a good thing I did. You never know when you are going to need them.
Leaving Aid Station 3 you are on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The road goes up and around a corner. I fully expected when I got around that corner I would have a nice long downhill section on the parkway. But what I had not realized from just looking at the race profile was that Aid Station 3 was not at the high point of the race. Nope. 3 more miles of climbing to get to the top.
I put my head down and spun.There was nothing else to do.
At one point I heard a couple of bikes coming up behind me, fast. Crap. But it was two guys on road bikes riding the Blue Ridge. Keep YOUR tempo Meat! OK Yeti.
I finally crested the top part of the course and was rewarded with 3 miles of paved downhill. It was one of two times during the race that I really got into a tight aero position. 40+ mph. A glorious free 5 minutes of riding.
The profile has a short climb on it to the top of Heartbreak Ridge. I was feeling good at that point because I knew the race was mostly downhill to the finish from here. Yeah there was the second Kitsuma climb, but I knew I had the finish in me.
Then another surprise. The course turned off the Blue Ridge onto a “trail”. This one didn’t even pretend to be something you could ride. Straight up. No switchbacks.
The call came from behind me: “Time for the next hike-a-bike boys.” F ‘k!
This year for ORAMM they added an “Enduro” race section. Enduro is basically a downhill race that you do on regular mtb’s (as opposed to downhill specific mtb’s, with body armor and full face helmets). In endurance races they usually add this section as a race-within-a-race on a challenging downhill section of the course. They time how long you take to get down, fastest time wins. I didn’t have a shot and so I pretty much ignored the race-within-a-race.
Heartbreak is easily the most technical long downhill I have ever done. It was rocky, rooty, narrow and in places very steep (just as advertised by Drew). Following the advice I was given going up Curtis Creek I walked the off camber rooted section. I stayed back and low on my bike. Heavy feet, soft hands. I tried to let it run. About half way down my brakes stopped making the really cool disk brake sound and went into metal on metal sounds. I was wearing out my pads, quickly.
By the time I got to the bottom my hands were numb from the jarring. What I really wanted to do was shake them off, but there was no place to take a hand off the bar for the entire descent.
I had one minor fall, but no real damage. Safely out.
At the final aid station my crew was there. My entire crew. This came as something of a shock, let me explain. Dave’s family were there crewing with my gang. Dave had instructed his family to leave the last aid station after he went through so that they would be at the finish when he got there. I think he was expecting to be far enough ahead of me that they would not have time to stay at the last aid station to see me and then get to the finish. I was expecting to only see Coreen and my kids. But when I got there, my family was there and surprisingly so was Dave’s.
I looked at my sister-in-law. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the finish?”
“Dave just left here, like minutes ago.”
“How many minutes?”
“Just a couple.”
Holy sh!t. I was close. Closer than I thought I would be.
New bottles. A quick coke. A cold water. An icy went washcloth to wipe my face down with. Off I went.
By this point I was regularly passing people who were on the side of the road cramping. My anti-cramp magic is Jelly Belly Sport Beans. It seamed like a good time for some prophylactic medicine so I ate a pack of beans.
I knew that the second time up Kitsuma was going to be painful. Legs and I reached an agreement. We would go at a pace we could sustain. If I had to walk some of the single track at the top I would. In return Legs would not cramp and would spin at the cadence I needed. I walked the first couple of switchbacks, rode the rest and crested Kitsuma. The second time down was a lot of fun. This was my 3rd time down and I knew the flow a little bit. There were not many people with me so the trails were wide open. Tired or not it was my fastest descent. I exited the trails and hit the road for the final 5 miles of the race.
The finish of ORAMM is WAY more civilized than the finish of Leadville. It’s downhill! My only concern now were the race directions. A couple of days before the race we got our race directions. One direction stood out at this point. One direction.
“Just when you thought it was all pavement back to the finish after Kitsuma, we’ve added in a stretch of singletrack just before you get into downtown!”
Dear God, (they say there are no atheists in foxholes, I think there are not any at the end of an endurance race either) please let that direction be a joke. Please no more single track.
The approach into town is a 4 or 5% downhill paved road. I was in my tuck for the second time in the race, 35+ mph. (It’s remarkable how strong your legs feel when you have gravity working with you instead of against you!) I was looking for a marker to take me off the road. It came with about half a mile to go at the edge of town. We were directed off the road and onto a grass trail next to the road. “Single Track”. I smiled. Yes!
I stood and pedaled hard. Then I was across the finish line. Two hands in the air.
The clock read 7:10.
Coreen was at the finish waiting for me.
“You didn’t collapse! Put your bike over there, Dave’s in the river cooling off.”
One of the best things about ORAMM is the finish line is right next to a shallow river. The river was filled with riders cooling off. Dave was in there with some of his Florida friends.
(Dave is in the upper left of the picture.)
In I went.
In the end I finished ORAMM in 7 hours and 10 minutes. Dave finished in 6 hours 59 minutes and 55 seconds. He made his goal of a sub-7 hour finish. Barely, but he did it.
I never caught up with Dave in the final part of the race. In truth, I would have probably had to pass him on the climb to Kitsuma to beat him to the finish. The final descent of Kitsuma was really devoid of traffic and so you could rip it. Dave’s better at that than I am…. Or is he?
I got a message from Dave on Tuesday that the results were up. Yeah, Dave beat me in the race. But, BUT…. I beat him in the Enduro race. Turns out I was 7 seconds faster on the race-within-a-race. Neither of us were particularly fast, but I was faster :) So strangely Dave won the GC race and the Bohl Yellow Jersey, but I won the technical race and the Bohl Green Jersey. I do not think either one of us would have predicted that outcome.
At 7:10 I was the 192nd racer to cross the finish line. 372 people finished. They didn’t list how many dnf’d. The race sold out in January at 500 entries. You can do the math. BTW. The course was extremely fast this year. The conditions were perfect. Tacky sticky single track. No mud. No rain. There was cloud cover which kept the temps down just a little bit. The course record was shattered this year and now sits at 4:23. ( After you do that math, its almost 15 mph for an average speed.)
How do I assess my race? Well, no cramps no stomach issues. Win there. No serious crashes. Win there too. One of the biggest things I learned at Leadville last year was to take a race piece by piece. That really came in handy. A long race is big if you try to think about it in it’s entirety. Take it one section at a time and its more manageable. I really didn’t feel like I had my best legs in this race. But my lesson there is that if I am feeling weak or tired, well chances are other people are too. It’s not me, it’s the course. A good lesson I think.
As always its the people who make the races fun.
Climbing and chatting with people up Curtis Creek. We went past some locals “camping” on the side of the road. I called out: “I bet they have beer!” Everyone had a good chuckle.
Going up “small little nothing climbs” with locals.
I rode the last climb and descent of Kitsuma with a guy named Ed from Georgia. We got each other through that torture. He was cramping so I coaxed up on the ups. He was faster down and pushed me in that direction. He finished 30 seconds ahead of me.
I was asked which was harder Leadville or ORAMM. They are so very different it is hard to say. To be fast at Leadville you have to be physically strong and mentally tough. If I had to describe Leadville in one word I would say “tempo”. To be fast at ORAMM you have to be physically strong and techincally good. If I had to describe ORAMM in one word it would be “edgy”. You have to ride right at the edge of your skills. I felt more physically beat up (i.e. sore) after ORAMM. My bike was more beat up after ORAMM too. I checked last night, I burned a pretty fresh pair of brake pads during the race. I was more physically drained after Leadville.
I would love to do ORAMM again. Next time though it will be with more confidence in my riding. There is time on the course for me there.